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by Lisa Anderson Shaffer, LMFT
November 8th 2020

Hi Friends, I'm Lisa Anderson Shaffer - coach, consultant, psychotherapist, and resident psych enthusiast. And I LOVE psychology! It's the study of human behavior after all and isn't... More

Hi Friends and welcome to Joy is Now the podcast where we take psychologically minded look at life. I'm your host, Lisa Anderson Shaffer coach, consultant, and resident psych enthusiast. Joy is Now is sponsored by listeners like you visit Lisa Anderson Shaffer dot com to join the community and become a one time or recurring patron of the podcast. Why the United States is a teenager, psychology and development. Part one of probably one million. In the words of the grateful dead, "what a long, strange trip it's been." By the way, I'm sure I have this scribbled in a high school year book somewhere under a friend's photo. Probably multiple friends. I was so deep, y'all. But more accurately than strange and long, the last four years have been dangerous, divisive, unsafe and crazy. Like real all caps crazy. If you know me, you know, I take that word pretty seriously.

I do not use it lightly and I believe that when we look at the United States the past four years, crazy has some clinical accuracy. The granola has been a little heavy on the nuts. Even for my taste. All of us were waiting on the results of the 2020 presidential election for the last four years. We all have that in common, but it falls apart when it comes to intention. Intentions could not be more different. They are split real hard and this points to many things. Hang in there. I'll get to it. I'm not surprised by the closeness of the results. As disturbing as they are, I understand the human condition. We excel at working towards progress and a perpetual undoing all at once. This is who we are collectively and that sucks sometimes. So here's some big picture perspective for you. A wide focus, a very necessary part of the equation that psychoanalysis offers so beautifully. Never lose sight of the big picture. So here's what that looks like. Psychoanalysts love history. There's a lot of talk of the United States having about as much common sense as a teenager. If you know teenagers then you know that mindful choices are not the norm. In the greater sense, this model considers where we compare in historical age to other nations and lands in time. In this case the United States, our government specifically.

We are mere teens. The United States government is young and we have a lot of learning to do. On the developmental timeline of nations, we are pre pubescent eighth graders with underdeveloped brains, poor choices galore, and an inability to see the full picture, disorganised, searching for self and on a near constant quest for self gratification. Teens want what feels good right now in the moment. Total walking boners. That's the tension communicating between knowing what is right what is possible while still being stuck in a mud of incomplete mental capacity. This isn't about intelligence, It's about neurological development of the brain which does not come full circle until about 25. With this incomplete development comes a strong idealism and this idealism can go in both directions. Toward the healthier side of the continuum and toward the less healthy. It is what it is. In the greater sense, this idealism means adolescents are bad at the gray area, so bad.

The capacity for grey barely exists. Teens are super bad at it. Did I say that already? It's kind of what they're good at. Being bad at shit. The election results speak very clearly to this. We are mere tweens and we behave like it and ever more so with a deadbeat abusive dad at the helm. Try rationalizing with a teenager. It's exhausting. Try creating a supportive relationship with an abusive, deadbeat dad. It's exhausting more so. It is what it is. But parenting, mentoring adolescence is worth the struggle. Teens need boundaries. They need something strong and solid to push up against as they find their way individuate. They need to fight, they need to come up against the immovable force that won't budge even though they are relentlessly annoying, choose a really stupid haircut and get caught sneaking out because they were too dumb to shut off the find a friend function on their iPhone 1st. Like parents don't know how to do that. Like we don't all know how to create a fake social media account so we can quietly follow the poor choices in real time.

Like duh. Truth be told, teens are less than a threat and more hilarious. They're stuck and the discomfort with this being stuck is well sort of funny, especially since teens rail against it hard. There's no surrender, no acceptance. They fight the forest, fight the current make choices that are not in their best interest at all reject the tide. They excel at this behavior so much their desire to be unpredictable. Well it becomes predictable and I guess that's where I find the humor. In their attempt to reject what serves them best and be difficult, they actually become sort of boring and that's funny. And you know what for all their faults and struggles, teenagers are actually pretty amazing. They are on the precipice of some real revolutionary shit. It's an exciting place. It can be an inspiring place. Idealism can be really, really cool, It creates change, incites passion and can be a powerful force.

But the other side of adolescence, the individualization, the sense of self adulthood, it takes a whole lot of mistakes to get there. A whole lot of crashing, pushing, shoving and most importantly, it requires competent and caring guidance. Sadly there is no skipping the line of development. Ever. It's just not possible. And if this analytic metaphor holds and the United States is a struggling eighth grader,then we don't get to skip this clusterfuck of a mess either. We just have to survive adolescents and keep on getting older. But as a country that's not enough to do more than just survive. To thrive first, we need a better parent. A better set of parents. Who are not distracted or scared off by the poor choices. Young ignorance and concretized thinking. Parents who hold the line in a loving way. Not a fear based and abusive one. Parents who don't introduce trauma as a winning strategy.

These do not a good parent make. Kids need to feel safe to thrive. Basic principle of parenting. So a good parent to a teen looks something like this. First a good listener, teenagers work through a ton of crap, they need someone to talk to about it. A lot of the time it needs to be someone who they think will not sit in judgment even if as soon as they walk out of the room, the adults are like, oh my God, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. A sounding board often helps to find some definition in the mess of adolescence. This is why all teens should have access to psychotherapy but that's a whole other episode. Second is rules. Being the cool parent with the teen is what failing looks like. That's not to say there cannot be mutual love and respect and even fun, but being cool, teens have friends for that. They have like minded people who also have underdeveloped brains to spend their time with. These are called their peers. They don't need more peers. But rules are hard and annoying to enforce. Yeah, too fucking bad.

Good parents do it anyway. Good parents do not fan the flames of the shortcomings of this developmental stage. Understanding when compromising is a good idea and when it needs to be a non negotiable scenario is essential. Oftentimes people who feel stuck uncertain, incomplete, will rail violently until they meet an immovable wall. They need to run up against a strong force to feel grounded and calm themselves. They need containment. It's basic safety. Teens need to be heard, but they also need rules. And teen parents must hold the line. Some rules can be compromised, but others the big ones, they need to stay firm. Nothing makes a teen feel less safe than someone who doesn't hold the line. It makes them rail even more. If you were following this metaphor, perhaps this point is evident. A sound parent holds the line. Teens will eventually wear themselves out with the fight. They are not developmentally capable of the next step yet, not yet. Good parenting is about helping them get there. This is why adults, who are still in development by the way, it's kind of a lifelong thing, but hopefully further along. This is why we look back at things, we were 100% certain of his teenagers and think holy crap. Here's a personal example of how little I understood about the world as a teen. In the 90s MTV was the most important thing in existence.

I was positive that MTV was run by a bunch of super cool college kids wearing Adidas tracksuits in Greenwich Village. That's right. When my dad told me it was just a bunch of old capitalist white guys in suits leveraging the teen market, I nearly fell over. A teen market? Wait, so Kurt Cobain makes old white men money? Oh my God, I had no idea. And that is 100% hilarious. Super duper, clueless. So here we are America, a bunch of teens trying to figure it all out with half the tools we need and we don't get to skip ahead on the game board of development. So what do we do? What does the big picture look like? Well, it looks like a lot of work. Patience, holding firm and safety. It looks a lot like going back to the basics and providing safety. We often forget this with teenagers. We think they're past the you are cranky, are you hungry? Don't forget to bring a sweater, be home by 11. We think they're past that phase. They rail against it.

But it's still important. Teens still need cookies and milk. We as a country, we still need cookies and milk and maybe a selection of gluten free and vegan options too. I know it sounds hard, maybe impossible, but here's what I know about having spent years working with the incredible roller coaster that is adolescence. There are people that love the job. There are people that it is a pleasure for them to hold the line stand firm offer the milk and cookies to a never ending dramatic eye roll walk out of the room to know that the whispers are totally about their out of touch choice in denim Tell the 16 year old who hates herself that things will get better, not easier, but better to hold her hand and see it through even as she yells and screams, I hate you, I hate you. You'll never understand. There are people that love this work and are exceptional at it and I know this to be true. So here's hoping for some better parenting. This is what we need that everyone elected this time around.

Everyone can put on their good parenting pants. Listen, hold the line and offer love. I think we as a country, have a better chance this time around. The cool thing about teens is that in a truly supportive environment with well intended parents, mentors, people who want to be good parents, teens are capable of the most magical moments. Ones that make you think anything is possible, that the world is full of the most incredible wonders. The nurturing appropriate boundaries and sounding board gives space for the shortcomings of adolescents to grow into gifts. Us Teens are on the verge of some epic amazing shit. We just need the right adults to get us there.
This has been Joy is Now now with me Lisa Anderson Shaffer, LMFT. You can find me for hire at Lisa Anderson Shaffer dot com with patronage, support for this podcast and the These Three Things project. You can also follow along with my musings at Lisa Anderson Shaffer on Instagram, See you next time.

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